When Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero made a trade with the Dallas Stars a few years back, it was thought that James Neal was the only player of note that the Penguins received in the deal. The Penguins were looking to upgrade their forward position and Neal has turned out to be everything the team could have asked for and more.
However, in that deal, the Penguins and Stars also swapped defensemen. The Stars brought in young defenseman Alex Goligoski and the Penguins got Matt Niskanen. It seemed that all the Stars wanted to do with Niskanen was dump his contract on the Penguins.
Let’s fast-forward to the 2013-14 season. In a season that has seen the Penguins lose one defenseman after another to injury, there has been one man that has been as steady as a rock for the Pens. That man is, you guessed it, the one and only Matt Niskanen.
If you were to ask any Penguins fan prior to the season which defensemen the Penguins should trade to get help at the forward position or to allow the younger defensemen to get a chance, they would have said the Niskanen. Up until this point, most fans likely thought that he had value to this team, given the talent level of the players.
Boy, were these people wrong!
Heading into the Penguins game Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild, Niskanen could easily be in the running as one of the Penguins mid-season MVPs. Now I do not say this lightly, especially with a team that employs players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the red-hot Marc-Andre Fleury. However, you have to look at the numbers and the facts.
First, Niskanen is one of two defensemen to be currently playing from their opening day lineup. You also have to look at Niskanen’s plus/minus rating. Prior to the game against the Wild, Niskanen was a +18, this is the highest rating among all Penguins’ players. Niskanen is also only two points behind the league leader going into that game. Also, Niskanen is one of the leading defensemen among all Penguins in ice time. He is playing not only on the power play, but also on the penalty kill.
With all of the call ups for the Penguins playing extremely well, talks of trading Niskanen are coming back around. Why would you think about trading the guy who is carrying your defensive corps right now? You have to face facts, as great as veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik has played during his career in Pittsburgh, he is a free agent at the end of the year. The Penguins will not re-sign him. This should leave room to keep Niskanen. Yes, I know that these young players need to start seeing the NHL and soon. However, Niskanen just keeps getting better and better as his time increases with the Penguins. Isn’t it about winning now and not tomorrow for a team like the Penguins? It absolutely is and that is why you have to keep Niskanen and be thankful for the way he is playing for the Pens right now.